CTE rocked the professional sports world at the highest level with the NFL agreeing to a nearly $1 billion dollar settlement for the ravages of concussions on its players. The litigation focused on allegations of fraud and cover ups when it came to the reality of head trauma in the league. As the science behind CTE evolves there is reason to believe that liability can trickle down to the lower levels of sport as well even absent fraud and deceit. The law of negligence may be sufficient.
Earlier this month a concerning study was published with far reaching implications in the world of collision and combative sports. Researchers were able to demonstrate that repeated exposure to sub-concussive blows was enough to result in CTE. No concussions or knockouts needed.
Why should this be concerning for martial arts and combative sports academies? If hard sparring resulting in routine cumulative subconcussive impacts is a staple in your gym this can potentially lead to liability if students subsequently develop disease.
For the sake of this article I am not discussing professional or even amateur fighters who choose certain training methods to prepare themselves for the rigours of competition. I am discussing hobbyist students who make up the bulk of the profit generating student body in a typical martial arts gym. Combative sports schools largely cater to the general public selling things such as weight loss, confidence, self defense and skill building. Developing a neurodegenerative disease is not in the brochure.
If, through methods taught in a gym, hobbyist students are exposed to repeated head impacts and they develop CTE successful litigation against the gym is not a far fetched idea.
A 2006 British Columbia case went so far at to find that a student injured while following an instructors training can not only succeed in a negligence claim but also that a liability waiver is not effective in such circumstances. The following comments tossing the waiver could easily extend to CTE litigation –
 In any event, I find that an injury such as that experienced by Mr. Parker does not fall within the scope of the waiver. In my opinion, Mr. Parker, by engaging in shoot-fighting lessons accepted certain risks of injury but he did not accept the risk of injury at the hands of his instructor whom he trusted not to harm him. It is reasonable for Mr. Ingalls to seek a waiver from accidents occurring in the case of a student injuring himself as a result of falling or doing a move incorrectly, or being injured by another student in the course of an exercise. However, it is not reasonable for Mr. Ingalls to seek to exclude himself from his own negligence where he is conducting a demonstration in which he has complete control over the safety of the student. Mr. Parker was not asked to consent that risk and he did not do so.
If you run a for profit gym catering to hobbyist students it is wise to not only understand the dangers of concussion but the evolving science addressing the dangers of cumulative sub concussive impacts. Failure to do so can not only lead to un-needed harm but also to potentially crippling litigation.